Oh, the joy of winter in the Pacific North West. We dream of blue bird days with fluffy powdery snow, the sun kissing our faces and crisp cold air. However, more often than not, we get grey skies with wet slushy snow that soaks through every layer of Gore-Tex. Today’s prediction is no different, my buddy Tammy and I are fully aware of the forecast - 80% chance of precipitation and just above freezing temperatures. None the less, we are optimistic when we don our snowshoes and start out from the Alpental parking lot. Pockets of blue sky are dancing in and out of view and the snow is deep and powdery. We at first cherish the fluffy snow, but soon enough it becomes abundantly clear that this is going to be a tough day. When the terrain gets steeper it is more like swimming uphill than snow shoeing. One step up, slide right back down, one more step up, slide back down. We push on, now berating ourselves for the late start and not anticipating the snow conditions. Just below the north summit of Guye Peak we are stopped in our tracks, there simply is no safe way to get to the top, the snow is steep and unstable. We shrug our shoulders and turn around, getting to the top is not a priority, our main objective of the day is to build a snow cave and spend the night.
“There is a layer of ice here,” hollers Tammy from the hole we have dug.
We switch spots and I inspect the foot wide band of ice that intersects the snow layers. I jam my shovel into the ice layer, furiously trying to hack it into pieces. The ice sprays me in the face and then instantly melts, every inch of my body is saturated with water. We take turns excavating the ice, but I am not sure which is more miserable, laying in the snow hole hacking at the ice, or standing outside in the dark with heavy wet snow falling. We both crawl inside to inspect our progress, we have managed to make the world’s smallest snow cave. Actually, it is more like a snow coffin. Our feet are sticking out and when we lie next to each other we are like two sardines.
“Ready to go home yet?” asks Tammy.
“Yup!” I answer without hesitation.
We stop in North Bend to feast on burgers and beer. Finally warm and our bellies full, we laugh at the self-imposed misery. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Today, we learned!